The case of a missing human rights lawyer Li Heping has been moved out of the investigation stage and transferred to a court in China's northern Tianjin Municipality for prosecution as the international community continues to press for his release.
According to persecution watchdog China Aid, Li, a Christian defense attorney who used his career to protect those targeted by the Communist Party, vanished into police custody last year. At the time, he was taken from his home as part of a nationwide round-up of human rights lawyers. According to The Guardian, a Chinese security agent once told him, in the eyes of Beijing Li had become "more dangerous than Bin Laden". Since Li's imprisonment, authorities had refused to provide his family with any information, according to the South China Morning Post.
Li Chunfu, his brother, who also practiced law, went missing on Aug. 1, 2015, and neither man has been seen or heard from since.
However, earlier this month, Wang Qiaoling, Li's wife, received the news that her husband's case had been handed over to the court, concluding its investigation process and moving it into the prosecution phase. After visiting Tianjin People's Procuratorate No. 2 Branch, she learned her husband had been charged with "subversion of state power."
In a letter, human rights lawyer Zhang Kai, who was released in March, shared how Wang continuously showed support to both him and her husband while authorities persecuted them for representing groups targeted by the government.
"Human rights lawyer is among the most dangerous professions in China," he wrote in the letter translated by Chin Aid. "In the past ten years, both Li Heping and I were beaten by the police, hunted down, threatened by hooligans, imprisoned illegally, summoned by the government, monitored and detained, etc. Even our family members were investigated. We would have died much earlier without the protection of God."
He continued: "Wang Qiaoling kept comforting, supporting, and encouraging my parents after I was imprisoned...She witnesses about Jesus Christ with righteousness, sympathy, and a modest heart," despite her current circumstances.
Since his inauguration in 2012, Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has presided over a wide-ranging crackdown on freedom of expression, Christian leaders, writers, dissidents, and human rights lawyers. Last year alone, about 250 lawyers and activists were detained by police, and many remain imprisoned.
The United States and European Union have called on the country to release the prisoners, saying it has been "extremely troubled about the deterioration of the situation with respect to freedom of expression and association."
"I remain extremely concerned about the ongoing detention of Chinese lawyers," Max Baucus, the US ambassador to China, said in a statement. "China's treatment of these lawyers and advocates calls into question its commitment to the rule of law."
Said the EU statement: "We urge China to immediately release any individual who has been detained ... for seeking to exercise, protect or promote their own rights or the rights of others...We are equally concerned about all human rights defenders and their family members who have been harassed and punished because of their work in promoting rights which are protected in China's Constitution and international law."